Liverpool leader plots revival

By Jonathan Kalmus, April 8, 2011
Council chair Ian Cohen

Council chair Ian Cohen

The new leader of Merseyside Jewry wants to present Liverpool as an attractive and professionally viable city for young families.

Solicitor Ian Cohen was elected Merseyside representative council chairman on Tuesday. Career-wise, he came to national prominence as an expert in medical negligence cases, representing hundreds of families in the Alder Hey Children's Hospital organ harvesting scandal 10 years ago.

Communally, he is encouraged by investment in Liverpool's new King David campus and potentially sweeping changes to the way the community works.

"Gone are the days when people have to go to London to get the best jobs," he said. "It's not just a better quality of life you can now get in Liverpool, but there are top jobs in certain disciplines. Certainly I've found in the legal profession you can achieve great things in the provinces.

"I would only move out of Liverpool if anywhere could offer me more - and I haven't found it." The election of young Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger had been a promotional coup. "She loves it here in Liverpool."

Aged 43, he dismisses the suggestion that his communal involvement in the prime of life makes him a rarity in an ageing community. He is intent on ensuring a younger leadership for Liverpool, a process begun by outgoing rep council chairman Gordon Globe.

"He had the foresight to bring a new guard in. Without Gordon and his wife Maxine, the community would be very different.

"I think there is a certain view that there are very few people like me involved. But there are plenty more out there. Take Michael Levitt, the secretary for the council. He's young, runs a cheder. And there are others. You can look at our community and say: 'It's 2,500 when there were 10,000 Jews once, what a shame.' I say: 'It's 2,500 people who put a lot on, have a fantastic school, provide services to other provincial cities, don't we do well?' Better to have 500 actively involved from 2,500 than 100 out of 5,000."

The launch of Liverpool Jewry's communal census showed it was "not taking an ostrich approach" to strategic planning. Data gleaned would help to better plan welfare services run by cash-strapped Merseyside Jewish Community Care.

Efforts to "rationalise" community assets such as synagogues into smaller and more affordable entities would continue, following on from the redevelopment of Allerton Synagogue, which opened a £3 million housing facility on its site in 2008.

With £25 million of investment, the King David School's new campus will be the hub of youth facilities, charity events and other communal activities when it opens in September. Mr Cohen sees it as a gateway to the wider Jewish community, "offering national events in Liverpool within a secure kosher environment".

With Jewish pupils making up just 25 per cent of the KD population, Mr Cohen conceded that "we will all have to work very hard to preserve its Jewish identity. We already have a committee of active people who are working hard to make the campus work."

Last updated: 2:46pm, April 8 2011